County closure has impacts

Feb. 13, 2014 @ 05:04 AM

When the decision is made to close down Rutherford County government offices, the impact is wide-ranging.

And, it's not just county employees who feel it.

Tuesday afternoon, county officials made the decision to close county offices because of inclement weather expected on Wednesday. This affected all county facilities, including the Senior Center and satellite meal deliveries.

While the county does try to keep extra food available to hand out in the event of inclement weather, Angela Ezell, Senior Center director, said that didn't happen Tuesday because of the time the decision was made to shut down services.

That impacted the approximately 80 seniors who receive meals every day.

"When we do an assessment, they are told about inclement weather and they know there may not be any meals that go out," Ezell said. "They are encouraged to prepare for that."

With senior services and Rutherford County Transit ceasing operations Wednesday, there is the potential for some to be without contact for more than a day.

However, Rutherford County does have its Are You Okay? program. It is designed to call subscribers throughout the day to check on their welfare.

"It calls the persons who apply for it as many times as they want in a day to make sure they are okay," said Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis. "Anyone who is by themselves or with a medical condition who might think it is in their best interest will get a call."

He said callers can have as many calls as they feel necessary in a day and the service is free to those who sign up.

"If they don't answer, we will make a second phone call and if they don't answer that call, that will trigger 911 to have emergency services to check on them," Francis said.

He added the service is a way to reach out and connect with people who may need help and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For information on signing up for "Are You Okay" call Lt. Leon Godlock at 828-287-6247.

As for Sheriff's department operations, Francis said the department has six four-wheel drive vehicles for use during inclement weather. Those vehicles are purposed for road deputies to respond to any emergencies in the county.

"We do have extra staff ready for communications and we are prepared if we need any additional road deputies," Francis said.

With regards to county staff, County Manager Carl Classen said full-time employees are on-call as needed while part-time staff do not get paid for the days county offices are closed. Classen said the county's inclement weather policy calls for full-time employees to get paid for the day they are off.

The only change to the county's inclement weather policy is the process the county goes through to determine whether offices will close. That is a change from the last time county offices closed in late January due to weather.

"The only thing we changed in January was how we decide to close," Classen said. "We now have department heads on a conference call when we have inclement weather upon us. That's how we make the determination on whether to close or not."

Wednesday was an example when some staff were called in, despite departments being shut down.

Classen said a trash hauler attempted to take a load to the county's transfer station Wednesday not knowing it was closed because they had not dropped off their load on Tuesday afternoon. That prompted county officials to call in staff for two hours Wednesday morning to assist with the trash drop off.

Another instance happened at the 911 Communications Center as power kicked on and off early Wednesday morning. That forced the generator to be used because, Classen said, one of the main power wires for the center was damaged.

Some county employees along with Duke Energy were dispatched to the Communications Center to fix the power problem.

"When the power was not coming in, the power was reduced and the generator kicked in," Classen said. "When the wire worked better, the generator kicked off."

Classen said that, even though county facilities are closed, they still try to reach out to residents — especially seniors — during times of inclement weather.

"We are very concerned about those seniors and we have a system through the Sheriff's department to call seniors to make sure they are alright," Classen said.